Why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Schools Should Close in Response to COVID-19

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I’ve seen a lot of writings on social media about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 with respect to whether or not to continue training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other combat sports. I’ve been training right up until last week, and this week I was traveling on business and didn’t have time to get to the academy near where I am, but that’s okay because I’ve decided to forgo training until this pandemic is past us.

Why BJJ Practitioners are Low Risk…Sort Of

I’ve seen the argument that as people who lead relatively healthy lives in comparison to the rest of the population, as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners we’re extremely low risk. While that may be generally true, that argument ignores many related issues.

I train at a large academy in NYC, a city which has the potential to become a hotbed of COVID-19 activity. We’re all constantly interacting in very close quarters and there’s just no way around that. It’s just too easy for a teammate to pick up the virus at work, in the subway, or an elevator, only to bring it into the academy. In fact, this virus could be even more dangerous if carried by a healthy person who may or may not ever become symptomatic, but could easily spread the virus through the entire BJJ academy during a single class.

Now that more and more kids and seniors are training BJJ, this exposes many vulnerable teammates to a potentially lethal virus.

Additionally, now that COVID-19 is officially a pandemic, it’s more important than ever to keep our bodies and our immune systems in peak shape, which means we should refrain from extremely vigorous exercise and instead focus on physical activity more suited for general strength and conditioning as well as mobility and flexibility. We shouldn’t be doing anything that stresses our bodies too much. Of course, a little bit of stress is certainly good, but we need to conserve our energy for staying healthy. By that I mean not just fighting off the coronavirus, I also mean fighting off the common cold, the flu, and anything else which could compromise our immune systems.

Moving forward, I plan to focus on a basic kettlebell workout, some mobility and flexibility, and walking. The only BJJ I might consider doing will be some very light drilling with my girlfriend at home. I’ll hold the Muay Thai pads for her in exchange for her letting me practice some easy guard passes on her. Very light with no resistance.

BJJ is the Perfect Environment for Community Spread

Should a teammate or visitor train at a school while carrying the novel coronavirus, the potential to infect the entire school is extremely high. Think about how many partners you drill or roll with during a single class. Also consider how much of the mat your body comes into contact with during any given class. Now also imagine the infected teammate training during multiple classes throughout one week. Now imagine everyone who has partnered with this infected teammate training with all of their respective training partners throughout a given week.

It’s quite easy to see how COVID-19 could spread through the entire school extremely quickly. As many of us have spouses, children, and elderly parents who play a large role in our lives, it would be irresponsible to subject anyone to such a risk.

Gyms Are Already a Breeding Ground for Bacteria

It’s common knowledge how unsanitary gyms are in general, and even with frequent deep cleaning, the same holds true for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academies. Even with regular deep cleaning, mats become a petri dish of bacteria within 20 minutes of starting class as everyone’s perspiration drenches the once clean mats.

There’s No Way to Eliminate Close Contact

I’ve heard of one MMA school which has suspended their Jiu Jitsu classes, and only teaching striking with pads and bags. While this effort is to be commended, this still doesn’t go far enough. It’s impossible to practice such arts without any contact at all, and especially impossible to avoid touching potentially infected surfaces. And of course, unless we find a way to introduce kata into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there’s no way to effectively train without touching our training partners.

Summary

Is it worth potentially spreading COVID-19 even further as a result of an activity that we could easily postpone until we begin to see an improvement in the current situation? I realize that the decision to close down a BJJ academy is an agonizing choice, especially given how this will affect people’s livelihoods. However, we’re all in the same position here. None of us will emerge unscathed. Just today, NYC announced that Broadway shows would go dark until April 13. That means hundreds, if not thousands, of people out of work, not to mention the collateral damage to adjacent business. But we must all do our part to help prevent the spread of the virus, and to stay healthy for ourselves and for our loved ones.

I can’t stand the thought of not training BJJ for a month of more, but closing all Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other combat sports schools for the next month or two until this situation is under better control is the only reasonable solution.